June 18, 2024

Kentucky Derby Report – Contrasting styles on display from fancied contenders

Tiz the Law opened his 3-year-old season with a sharp win in the Holy Bull (G3) at Gulfstream Park (c) Ryan Thompson/Coglianese Photography

Tiz the Law and Thousand Words became the first horses to win multiple qualifiers in the 2019-20 Road to the Kentucky Derby series on Feb. 1, taking the Holy Bull (G3) and Robert B. Lewis (G3), respectively. Both horses returned from approximately a two-month vacation to score as the favorite, but the similarities stop there.

Tiz the Law appears ready for a serious assault upon the Kentucky Derby. Thousand Words looks like he could fit the part, but must continue to develop.

A smashing winner of the Champagne (G1) in early October, Tiz the Law rebounded impressively from his first defeat in the Nov. 30 Kentucky Jockey Club (G2). He didn’t appreciate being behind horses along the rail in the slop at Churchill Downs, tossing his head rankly, and Manny Franco was determined to avoid the same trip at Gulfstream Park after entering the backstretch of the Holy Bull in similar position.

The jockey took a sharp hold, angling the athletic colt outward, and Tiz the Law quickly assumed a stalking position to the outside of Ete Indien. He launched a bold bid on the far turn to dismiss the pacesetter entering the lane, and Tiz the Law drew off to a three-length score through the short stretch at the 1 1/16-mile distance. He left the rest of the field spread out behind him.

Ete Indien, who was making his second dirt start after winning a Jan. 11 allowance at Gulfstream by open lengths, held well for second. Third-placer Toledo finished 14 1/2 lengths back of the winner.

Tiz the Law notched a massive 108 Brisnet Speed rating after stopping the teletimer in 1:42.04. It is the best figure in a qualifier since Justify (114) in the 2018 Santa Anita Derby (G1), and a number good enough to win most editions of the Kentucky Derby this century. Tiz the Law also received a second consecutive triple-digit Late Pace rating (105), which bodes well for his profile.

It’s natural to expect some regression from a Speed rating perspective in the final prep, either the March 21 Louisiana Derby (G2) at Fair Grounds or the Florida Derby (G1) at Gulfstream a week later, but expectations will remain high as he stretches out in distance next time. Nyquist (103-97), Orb (102-97) and I’ll Have Another (102-98) all won the Kentucky Derby in the last decade after posting a lower Speed rating in the final tune-up.

Owned by Sackatoga Stables and trained by Barclay Tagg, the New York-bred son of Constitution possesses stamina influences on both sides of his pedigree. In fact, there are similarities to 2003 Kentucky Derby winner Funny Cide, who was also owned by Sackatoga and trained by Tagg.

An inside trip is the main concern presently for Tiz the Law – what happens if he draws an inside post in a 20-horse Derby field? I wonder if the Kentucky Jockey Club was more a byproduct of his first start on a sloppy track, and it’s easy to understand why connections were willing to lose ground in a seven-horse Holy Bull field. The talented sophomore has displayed the tractability to make his own trip, overcoming traffic issues in all three wins.

Three Takeaways from the Holy Bull

Thousand Words grinded out the victory in the 1 1/16-mile Lewis at Santa Anita, reeling in pacesetting stablemate High Velocity in deep stretch and holding Royal Act to a rallying second by three-quarters of a length, and he’s posted narrow wins in all three starts for five-time Kentucky Derby hero Bob Baffert.

I came away impressed by his victory in the Dec. 7 Los Alamitos Futurity (G2), in which he courageously turned back Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) runner-up Anneau d’Or by a neck the second time out, and thought Thousand Words looked like the winner from the top of the stretch to the wire in the Lewis despite the close margin.

“The further the better with him,” Baffert said afterwards, reiterating a common narrative surrounding the colt: Thousand Words is still early in his development cycle with enormous potential.

After posting a 95 Brisnet Speed rating, the long-striding son of Pioneerof the Nile netted only a 92 in the Lewis. I’m not too worried about Speed ratings at this stage, talented young horses can jump forward significantly with experience, and Derby winners Orb (2013) and Always Dreaming (2017) earned only an 89 Speed figure in their 3-year-old opener. His determination is a given, but Thousand Words will need to run faster in upcoming prep races or becomes more of a prospect for later in the season.

After racing up close within striking range in all three starts, Thousand Words is eligible to change tactics in attempt to settle more in the early stages. We’ll see if Thousand Words has the acceleration to reel in better rivals next time, with the March 7 San Felipe (G2) at Santa Anita a likely target.

Three Takeways from the Robert B. Lewis

Three qualifiers awards points on a 10-4-2-1 scale toward a Kentucky Derby berth last weekend, with the Withers (G3) at Aqueduct completing the triple, and Max Player joined the discussion with a 3 1/4-length triumph in his stakes debut. A stoutly bred son of Honor Code, the Linda Rice-trained colt got in gear after straightening for home and ran down pacesetter Shotski in deep stretch to win going away.

His time for 1 1/8-mile distance (1:53.87) looks pokey at face value, but Max Player managed a solid 95 Brisnet Speed rating over the tiring track at Aqueduct. He progressed nicely off a Dec. 17 maiden win at Parx over a sloppy track, but Dylan Davis had to keep him well off the rail most of the way.

“It was a good thing I watched his replays coming into today, he doesn’t like too much kickback,” Davis said. “He broke well for me today and right when the first kickback came to him into the first turn, he immediately got distracted. I got him back outside and he got on pace and started running well.”

With an off-the-pace run style, Max Player’s aversion to kickback isn’t favorable. He will look to guarantee a spot in the Kentucky Derby field with a strong showing in the April 4 Wood Memorial (G2) at Aqueduct.

Three Takeaways from the Withers

3-year-old watch

Edge of Fire turned in an impressive debut at Gulfstream on Jan. 1, winning easily by a two-length margin. The chestnut son of Curlin waited patiently behind rivals into the stretch as Jose Ortiz decided where to go, and once the jockey eventually opted to go around horses, the 6-furlong race was quickly over. Jimmy Jerkens trains the promising colt, and Edge of Fire owns the pedigree for Triple Crown distances.  He registered an 85 Brisnet Speed rating.

A $1 million son of Uncle Mo, Palm Springs held by a nose to break his maiden while stretching out to a one-turn mile on the Holy Bull undercard. After making a strong move to the lead rounding the far turn and entering the stretch clear, the Todd Pletcher-trained colt was fortunate to win the close bob in his second career start. Palm Springs got an 88 Brisnet Speed rating. Mister Candy Ride ran well to just miss in his debut for Ken McPeek, and the son of Candy Ride looks like one who should appreciate two-turn distances.

Mischevious Alex rolled to a seven-length win in the 7-furlong Swale (G3), but the up-and-coming sprinter may stick to one-turn distances for Jason Servis. Grade 2 juvenile winner Green Light Go, unraced since a runner-up to Tiz the Law in the Champagne, never fired recording a well-beaten third.

West Sider was hustled to stalk the action at the start and launched his move after entering the stretch, closing boldly to win his unveiling by a widening 2 1/2-length margin at Santa Anita Feb. 2. Baffert trains the Gary and Mary West homebred son of Uncle Mo, and West Sider netted an 84 Brisnet Speed rating for the seven-furlong maiden race. The bay colt is out of the Elusive Quality mare Vied, a half-sister to Grade 1 winner and sire Overanalyze.

Rushie didn’t break sharply but rushed forward to show the way on a short lead entering the first turn of a maiden special weight on the Lewis undercard. He caught a breather on the far turn and comfortably withheld the late surge of 4-5 favorite Divine Armor, who was under a drive for the final half of the one-mile maiden event. Unraced since finishing sixth to Thousand Words in late October, Rushie graduated in his second start for Mike McCarthy and garnered an 85 Brisnet Speed figure. The gray colt is by Liam’s Map, and Rushie’s dam is a half-sister to Grade 1 winner Peace and War.

Sixto rallied from just off the pace to the lead in midstretch and drew away to a 1 3/4-length maiden triumph in his first outing at Aqueduct on Jan. 30. Purchased for $250,000 as a 2-year-old in training, the son of Curlin received a 91 Brisnet Speed for the 6-furlong test at Aqueduct, and trainer Eric Guillot said he will point the dark bay colt to the Gotham (G3) on March 7.

Taraz had been under consideration for a Kentucky Derby qualifier, but she did not build upon a pair of eye-catching sprint wins when stretching out to a two-turn mile in the Martha Washington at Oaklawn Park. Her Brisnet Speed ratings (96) declined in the 3 3/4-length decision, and Taraz will stick to the Kentucky Oaks trail for her next start.


The first of two qualifiers at Tampa Bay Downs, the $250,000 Sam F. Davis (G3) offers a total of 17 points (10-4-2-1), and the 1 1/16-mile race has star quality due to the presence of Independence Hall.

Sam F. Davis:

#1 Ajaaweed: A belated fourth behind Maxfield in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1), he improved when recording a half-length second in the Remsen (G2) over a speed-friendly track at Aqueduct, registering a 98 Brisnet Speed rating. A Shadwell Stable homebred son of Curlin, the Kiaran McLaughlin-trained colt should be finishing with Joel Rosario, and anything short of a top three finish will be a major disappointment.
#2 Sole Volante: Confirmed closer won his first two starts on turf, including the Pulpit S., before switching to the main track with a non-threatening third in the Jan. 4 Mucho Macho Man. I don’t like his run style in this spot and his future may ultimately be on turf, but one to consider for a minor award after registering a 100 Speed figure last time.
#3 Albert Park: A juvenile stakes victor on the Tapeta at Presque Isle Downs, Street Sense colt switched from turf to dirt with a well-beaten second in the Jan. 24 Pasco at Tampa. Will need to improve significantly to challenge.
#4 Independence Hall: Two-time stakes winner has crushed rivals by a combined 20 3/4 lengths in three starts and has been far from a finished product, showing signs of immaturity each time. That adds to the excitement level, and given his build and pedigree, the future looks extremely bright for the Constitution colt. He seeks to keep advancing for Michael Trombetta while stretching out to two turns Saturday.
#5 No Getting Over Me: Twice-placed in a pair of Tampa sprint stakes, his Speed numbers look too low to factor.
#6 Premier Star: A wild card in his first stakes and two-turn attempt, chestnut colt exits a sharp wire-to-wire allowance tally at Gulfstream Park. John Velazquez picks up the mount, and the Jorge Navarro-trained speedster will look to steal the race on the front end.
#7 Tiz Rye Time: A nice maiden scorer two back, he is eligible to improve upon his first start against winners last time, but Tiznow colt is facing a tough task here.
#8 Chapalu: A turf maiden winner at Keeneland, he was last seen posting a wire-to-wire win in the Grey (G3) at Woodbine in late October. Will watch to see how he fares against graded foes on dirt.

Kentucky Derby Top 10

1 Independence Hall: Stretches out to two turns in Sam F. Davis
2 Tiz the Law: Confirmed his status as a major contender with sparkling Holy Bull win
3 Thousand Words: Unbeaten colt does just enough to win; March 7 San Felipe may be next
4 Maxfield: Well-regarded late runner sidelined by injury last fall, waiting for return to worktab
5 Anneau d’Or: Golden Gate-based colt will ship to Fair Grounds for Risen Star
6 Dennis’ Moment: Exciting 2yo performer readying for return in Feb. 29 Fountain of Youth
7 Enforceable: Risen Star is next for Lecomte winner
8 Silver State: Lecomte runner-up eligible to keep progressing in Risen Star
9 Nadal: Created a buzz winning his debut for Baffert in mid-January
10 Storm the Court: Champion 2yo returns in Sunday’s San Vicente at 7-furlongs

Up next

Point values will increase to 50-20-10-5 for Feb. 15 Risen Star (G2) at Fair Grounds, the first race in the Championship portion of the Road to the Kentucky Derby series.